Don't listen to anyone who says the mid 80's were dire for new music.
People like Simon Reynolds have been flogging the idea that there was little to nothing happening in British music around this time and the more notable ones (such as The Smiths, Spacemen 3, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Primal Scream) were essentially tribute acts, harking back to better days.
Clearly, Reynolds never bothered looking at the underground. Otherwise, he'd be singing a different tune altogether.
1985 was the year when (what is now referred to as) UK 82 and the anarcho punk scenes started to adopt more metallic sounds. English Dogs released the stone cold classic 'Forward into Battle', Amebix gave us 'Arise', Discharge threw out the controversial 'Ignorance/No Compromise' 7', while Onslaught brought out 'Power From Hell.' And, of course, this LP from Birmingham's Sacrilege.
There were also gigs from new bands such as Concrete Sox, Heresy, Extreme Noise Terror, Electro Hippies, Deviated Instinct, Generic, Mortal Terror, Napalm Death and Hellbastard. Most of whom would reap the benefits of those who had come before them.
Naturally, there were teething problems to begin with. Discharge were given dog's abuse for "turning metal", while English Dogs were sneered at by crusties who later on started putting metal into their sound. The feeling that metal was a reactionary form of music with lyrics about goblins and shagging three "chicks" at once was still prevalent in UK punk circles in the mid 80's.
While American bands like Corrosion of Conformity, The Accused and D.R.I faced similar confrontations, they at least came from a country where (as R.E.M's Peter Buck once said) the punks didn't win the war, they didn't have Top 10 singles. So not only did they have to stay underground but they weren't constrained by that "Year Zero" bollocks that endured in Britain. So it was acceptable to be able to play your instrument. A tad simplistic, but still true.
A rather tumultuous time, both musically and politically. And then Sacrilege came along.
Formed in 1984 after leaving The Varukers, guitarist Damien Thompson and bassist Tony May recruited Lynda 'Tam' Simpson on vocals. Drummer Liam Pickering completed the early line up.
Their first demo contains the standard protocol for that era: anarcho punk viewpoints mixed in with fast, punky riffs. A bit of Discharge, a bit of Conflict. 'Blind Acceptance' is the best track from this period.
Not too long after, Pickering was replaced by Andy Baker, thus setting the scene for 'Behind the Realms of Madness.'
Opener 'Lifeline' begins with twenty seconds of moody synth action, before hitting the listener with a vintage Damien Thompson riff. Heavily indebted to Slayer, it's made even more powerful by Baker's drumming (coming across like 'Ride...' era Lars Ulrich playing d-beats). No wonder Napalm Death covered this one.
Tam's voice is savage. Direct, accusing and (with the musical backdrop) nihilistic sounding, it's made more remarkable by the lyrics. Stark yet cryptic, they talk about how "Through innocent minds the knife guides in/Cutting the lifeline to sanity/Replacing lives with possessions and greed/Like blind children we search frantically."
The solo is very much in the Discharge sense, but there's little hints of Slayer and Venom in there as well. Showing that metal need not be the enemy for punks, 'Lifeline' is a savage opener.
As you can guess from the title, 'Shadow From Mordor' sees the Tolkien influence come to play on the lyrics, while still retaining the urgencies and concerns that occupied anarcho punks. The melding of the two make lines like "The new day is dawning/They start counting the dead/The hard swollen bellies/Of the children not fed" sound utterly apocalyptic.
Musically, the mid tempo and soaring guitar lines make the listener envisage a world not a million miles away from the Judgement Day sequences in 'The Terminator.' The echo deployed on the vocals reinforce this image, and 'At Death's Door' carries on in this vein
The first minute or so of 'A Violation of Something Sacred' bears a little passing resemblance to 'Fight Fire With Fire' before lapsing into some Discharge style riffage. It's a reworking of 'Blind Acceptance', although it's been made better by the chunkier guitar sound, harsher vocal delivery and high paced guitar licks.
Closing with the one-two punch of 'The Closing Irony' and 'Out of Sight, Out of Mind', the former is an portentous ode to a world living in fear of the four minute warning. The driving riffage once again sets the scene of a desolate, burnt out city where people scavenge for food.
The lyrics to 'Out of Sight...' are still as relevant today as they were in 1985: "Such a sorrowful scene, this sight for sore eyes/Emaciated bodies, another child dies/A sad symbol of the brotherhood of man/Out of sight out of mind in a faraway land" could be speaking about Aylan Kurdi, while "The wise men talk, the efforts all fail/They make new agreements of who's got what/The stockpiles get higher" sounds like Prime Minister's Questions.
And that brings us to the end of the LP. Recorded at Rich Bitch Studio in Birmingham, it impressed the likes of Justin Broadrick (who borrowed Damien's gear when recording 'Scum' at Rich Bitch) and Lee Dorrian (who borrowed Andy Baker for the first incarnation of Cathedral).
Later albums would see them go full on thrash ('Within the Prophecy') and experiment with doom ('Turn Back Trilobite'). While both are excellent albums, it 'Behind...' that is the most astonishing, and the most important for the UK punk/hardcore scene at that period in time.
Why they're not mentioned as much as they should be is probably down to a few factors: they didn't gig an awful lot (compared to bands like ENT or Napalm Death), the material was out of print for a long time (apart from dodgy bootlegs by Tony May) and their metamorphosis into a doom influenced metal band (confusing both crusties and thrashers)
Recently remastered and reissued by Relapse, it's great to see this record find a new audience. One who have fully embraced the crossover and for whom, there are no musical boundaries. It's all heavy music, and that's what matters.
The two new tracks included in the reissue indicate that we'll be hearing a lot more from Sacrilege. Let's hope so. Their presence proves Simon Reynolds wrong.
⏩ Christopher Owens was a reviewer for Metal Ireland and finds time to study the history and inherent contradictions of Ireland.